ARC releases white paper: The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media

The American Red Cross has released a white paper (the last chapter is not yet completed) entitled: The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media. This important paper describes how:

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=twitter&iid=8522875″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”162″ /]”The social web is creating a fundamental shift in disaster response that is asking emergency managers, government agencies, and aid organizations to mix their time-honored expertise with real-time input from the public.”

The paper isn’t a cheerleading piece, but a thoughtful discussion of the challenges that this new communications medium creates: “As of today, most of us are not yet  ready (or willing–my sentiment) to collect, respond or react to this incoming social data in a timely manner.”   The emergency response community just does not have plans, policies or procedures in place to deal with crisis information coming from the public other than through 911.

The paper also addresses the “Crisis Collaboration Movement”  (see my earlier posting Weapons of Mass Collaboration).  In particular, it addresses how new media and technology are changing the nature of volunteering: with new tools such as Ushahidi, people can contribute from their home computer to assist survivors and responders located thousands of miles away.  The question, however, is how to integrate their efforts into the official response apparatus. ESF? Another challenge is how to coordinate volunteer efforts to avoid unnecessary duplication.


6 responses to “ARC releases white paper: The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media

  1. “However, this rapid form of communication and its resulting motivated participants, while compelling, is unfocused and not directed to an entity that can actually make a useful response.”

    Um, does anyone else scent a whiff of elitism and self-interest there? Are we actually supposed to accept that bystander rescue and community self-help aren’t useful? “Useful to whom?,” one might ask. Is “crowdsourcing” really just a euphemism for the exploitation of individual efforts by existing agencies?

    I’m afraid this whitepaper still misses the essential point, which is that social media aren’t about maintaining the status of “professional” responders.

    In the same way mass transit amplifies the trend from monolithic conurbations and toward clusters of “satellite cities,” social media tend to amplify the differentiation of cultural, demographic and economic communities. And that growing differentiation among “we the peoples” strikes me as a fundamental challenge to traditional centralist models of mitigation, preparation, response and recovery.

  2. I see your point “useful” being the operative word, as if no one’s response is useful except official responders. In the authors defense, I think what they were trying to say is that its great to map all of this data in NY or Boston and send it out over the internet, but if someone isn’t there on the other end reading that data and then actually pulling that person out of the rumble, then what’s the point. And I disagree, this is not about a centralist model, in fact most of the great work regarding the application of social media in emergency management is being done at the local level.

  3. Local isn’t necessarily the opposite of central, at least not in the sense I meant. Even locally the question is whether I’m more likely to be rescued by a neighbor or by an official responder.

    This is the old emergent volunteer “problem” at electronic speed. E.g., is it possible that flash mobs might be able to do some things better or faster than formal response organizations? If so, which things, and are there things official agencies can do to facilitate that? Or should we designated responders just get the heck out of the way? Is the latter approach even thinkable?

    Right now the conversation seems to be framed largely in terms of harnessing social media in service of existing organizational structures. I’m suggesting that social media, especially coupled with the growing recognition of the inherent diversity of our populations, cannot simply be co-opted into existing emergency management practices.

  4. I agree, I think EM organizational structures will have to evolve in order to adjust to this new world order. Right now, some people are not even aware that the world has changed, so I’m sure the process will be slow.
    I think there’s always a place for an “official response”, particularly in the United States and other developed countries. On the other hand, we always tell people that they are on their own for 72 hours…

  5. Absolutely. Personally I think one of the more promising applications at the official / social interface is “just in time training” for the public during that “on their own” interval.

    Regrettably the focus right now seems to be much more on how social media can be data-mined to serve “us” than on how we can use social media to serve “them.” Which suggests that maybe “we” should take a moment to review our priorities.

    • I actually use social media to serve them. I use it as a medium for passing (and sometimes receiving) information to a new culture that does not watch the 6pm news or listen to the local radio. EM needs to keep up and jump on board in using social media as another form of communication versus ignoring it as a fad.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s